Negotiations to gain the freedom of 23 South Koreans being held by Taleban rebels in Afghanistan reached a crucial point Tuesday as a deadline to kill them passed.

Talks between the Taleban and Afghan tribal elders, who are working with the Kabul government and South Korea, continued past the set deadline of 7 p.m. local time (1430 UTC).

No new deadline was announced.

Reports say Taleban militants have made up a list of jailed prisoners they want released in exchange for freedom of the same number of South Koreans.

The kidnappers had threatened to kill the hostages unless South Korea agreed to pull its 200 troops from Afghanistan, and Afghan authorities released Taleban prisoners.

The 23 Christian aid workers were abducted Thursday as they were riding a bus through southeastern Afghanistan's Ghazni province.

About 150 villagers held a protest in Ghazni Tuesday demanding that the Taleban free the South Koreans unharmed.

In another development, a purported Taleban spokesman, Yousef Ahmadi, says a German engineer held by the group in a separate kidnapping last week is sick and suffering from diabetes. The kidnappers also are holding five Afghans.

The body of a second German hostage was found Sunday after he apparently was killed by his captors.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.